The third section, in which six important developments in technology are described, is ultimately framed by the noted trends and challenges. “The adoption or abandonment of these technologies by libraries will be very much determined by the responses taken across the world to these drivers of and obstacles to innovation and change,” says the report.

Developments in technology

Near term (one year or less)

Makerspaces: Many academic and research libraries have renovated or repurposed space to accommodate makerspaces, areas where students and faculty can access tools, materials, and the expertise to make things outside of their curricular objectives. The driving force behind makerspaces is rooted in the Maker movement, a following comprised of artists, tech enthusiasts, engineers, builders, tinkerers, and anyone else with a passion for making things. The addition of makerspaces is solidifying the library’s position as a hub where students and faculty can access, create, or engage in hands-on projects across departmental lines.

Online learning: Academic and research libraries are poised to play a major role in defining and helping facilitate future incarnations of online learning by guiding campus faculty. Libraries’ own digital offerings can be enhanced as more research is conducted about the impact of virtual instructional design and delivery platforms.

Mid-term (2-3 years)

Information visualization: “Information visualization is the graphical representation of technical, often complex data, designed to be understood quickly and easily,” notes the report. “Popularly called ‘infographics,’ this type of media is highly valuable in the age of ubiquitous knowledge, and the people who create it are equally desired by organizations seeking to share messages that make an impact. This format is particularly compelling for academic and research libraries, as it enables researchers and scientists to present complex findings in ways that are easier to comprehend than raw datasets.” For researchers and students, the study of information visualization covers a number of valuable skills relating to data analysis, design thinking, and contextual, inquiry-based exploration— in addition to the technical capacities required to carry out ideas using creative software.

Semantic web and linked data: “The semantic web infers the meaning, or semantics, of information on the Internet using metadata to make connections and display related information that would otherwise be elusive or altogether invisible,” describes the report. In the 1960s, the Library of Congress developed and released the first protocol for linked metadata, the machine-readable cataloging format, or MARC, as it is commonly known. “Advances in these standards and search engine analytics are connecting library catalog systems on the Internet, and using linked data to help users uncover and delve into content that is, for all practical purposes, hidden in the Deep Web. Semantic searching most frequently applies to scientific inquiries, allowing researchers to gather an abundance of relevant, credible information without using a dozen search tools, each with their own precise filters.” Furthermore, advancements in semantic web are generating new ways of data contextualization, resulting in deeper personalization and more comprehensive views of bodies of research.

Far-term (4-5 years)

Location intelligence: Location intelligence refers to the mapping of the geographic relationships associated with data, explains the report. Resources including GIS are used to provide information about how people are interacting with various apps and services based on their location. A growing facet of location intelligence in libraries is location-based services (LBS) which provide content that is customized according to the user’s location. New location intelligence technologies are extending that capability into buildings and interior spaces with remarkable accuracy. The report notes that a recent “compelling development for location-based services is the advent of indoor geolocation, which is providing library patrons with very specific information tailored to their exact location within a library, allowing fine-tuned information or services to be accessed from their exact location in 3D space, so that even different floors of a building can be identified.”

Machine Learning: According to NMC, machine learning refers to computers that are able to act and react without being explicitly programmed to do so. Practical speech recognition, semantic applications, and even self-driving cars all leverage machine learning via data systems that not only intake, retrieve, and interpret data, but also learn from it. “To do this, the machine must make a generalization, using algorithms to respond to new inputs after being ‘trained’ on a different learning data set—much like a human learns from experiences and uses that knowledge to respond appropriately in a different encounter,” describes the report. Recent incarnations of machine learning in the education space include a university-developed telescope that can automatically detect significant changes pointing to supernova occurrences.

For much deeper analyses of notes trends, challenges, and technologies, as well as suggested reading lists, concrete examples, and supporting research, read the full report, “NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Library Edition.

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